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CHICAGO!

March 15, 2008

STARTING OFF THE DAY WITH

The start of a very good day

is guaranteed to positively affect your day. Continuing the trend of good-ness, we were hosted by two inspiring, welcoming, laugh-inducing ladies. We had good friends, good sleeps, and good food all within 12 hours arriving in Chicago.

The good continued into our visit to Metropolis Coffee and our conversation with Chris Schooley, the chief coffee officer. From a simple scan of the website, one can see that Metropolis is focused on community local and global. The following is an excerpt from the Metropolis philosophy.

A coffee house should be a neighborhood center.  A coffee house should be a showcase for artists, a forum for ideas, and a catalyst for conversation. It should be a place to meet and to reflect, to pause before, in the midst, or at the end of the day. Community and the regard for differences among people and their ideas are central to our coffee philosophy. Each bean and tea leaf is sourced with two groups of people in mind: the people that taste them, and the farmers that grow them. Coffee, like art, has an aesthetic.  Respect is at the core of our coffee philosophy, and taste is paramount. .

Hazzah to that! Finding this philosophy months later has helped me recall the feeling of being in Chicago and at Metropolis. You walk in and you can feel this in the air.

Sitting on bar stools next to the Diedrich, we learned about the ceramic tiles used to reflect heat into the roaster, whcih provides more gentle heating and helps maximize energy use. Chris and CoffeeInAction discussed the craft of roasting, the sensuality of coffee, the importance of passing on the craft and creating community. We came up with this: Coffee is a craft that requires pursuing something amazing, not something perfect. The community has this amazing ability to feel intimate and incredibly meaningful while spanning the whole entire world and affecting pretty much everyone living on this globe. Working together; coffee shop to coffee shop, farm to farm, farm to coffee shop, and so on, can only enhance the efforts of us all and make live a little bit easier.

Two delicious soy cappucino’s made by barista Eric Komosa were followed by a trip to the roof to see the after burner.

-Sara Rose and Melanie

Getting back to the brewHoliday season 2008… that means CoffeeInAction has left the desperate public with nothing to buzz about. We sincerely apologize. Not to worry. The book of everything (our log and notebook from the trip) has found its way back into our loving hands. Charming Chicago is next and both Melanie and Sara were, in fact, charmed. The “Windy City” is filled with social entreprenuers, local-community oriented businesses, and of course, sustainable coffee. Not to mention good friends and great times! And I (Sara) do promise you the conclusion of our road trip, and maybe some insight into our learning by February 2009. If not, I will buy anyone who has been negatively affected by our slacking a bag of sustainable coffee when they come to visit in Boulder. Happy reading!

Personal updates en route as well.

Milualkie? Milwalkie? ggrrrr…..Milwaulkie! WTF, man. Anyway….

Friday, March 14th (The Action)

The Agenda:
Volunteer….
Film…
Beer….
Tour Alterra….
Drive to Chicago……

Volunteering at the Coffee competition was A B.L.A.S.T, Blast. The Shiz’, super fun, a grand old time, however you need to hear it to understand that we had fun. Boat loads of fun. I didn’t actaully expect to have so much fun, and don’t really know why or what about it was so fun. It just was. Maybe its because Sara+Melanie+Katie Weid+COFFEE = fun. Maybe.

Maybe it was because we got to meet some crazy cool coffee people from all over the mid-west (and beyond).

Maybe it was because someone recognized us FROM OUR BLOG! Do you know how famous I felt when somone looked at me, cocked his head sideways and said “Wait, are you one of the coffee in action girls?” Why yes, yes I am and I. AM. FAMOUS.

Maybe it was because I am an espresso cleaning machine and I derive such sick satisfaction out of leaving a perfectly spotless, shiny, streak-free, grind-free, beaufitul machine for people to make the best damn espresso they can. Maybe I became a little OCD as the day went on. Maybe.

The Judges Discuss....

Maybe it was because I got to see people being passionate together about something so many people take for granted. In friends, lovers, teachers, family, students, humans I look for 3 things – passion, compassion and laughter. The competition was filled with all of these. In that crazy (waterless) factory space were hundreds of people milling around geeking out about espresso, water, crema, reputations, beans, sources, music, cups, you name it there was a conversation somewhere about it.

Sara and I got to take part in making that happen. *Que sappy background music* It also reminded me of why I love volunteering so much. Its one thing to get paid for a day of work, to wake up and say I am doing x and reaping Y as my reward. Even if x is something you love, there is a reward for your effort. When I

Mine and Sara's view of the competition - over the pretty clean machines.

volunteer I’m saying “yes, this is something I care about. This is something I think is important and worth while.” While, yes, all we did was spend a day cleaning espresso machine and talking with self-professed coffee nerds, we were also part of building a community for that day.

We gave these baristas who had worked and trained for so long a fair and honest workspace to do their best. We offered words of encourangment as they walked on stage; hugs, high fives or “hells yeah, that was awesome”s as they came off. When volunteering for anything, you can look at what you are doing (cleaning machines) or the impact you can have (a well run day, a fair competition, a kind word to nervous-over-caffeinated baristas). *End sappy music playing in the background*

So, you remember that guy who recognized us? His name is Chad (Hi Chad!!). He is a filmmaker and he is making a doccumentary all about Barista competitions. In doing his research he had found this website (FAMOUS!) and had been tryingto meet up with us on our journey (FAY-MUSS!). After the competiton we all stepped outside and Chad interviewed Sara and I for little while (FUH-AY-MOOOSE), and we might end up in a doccumentary.

Then we walked across the street and joined the Baristas for a celebratory beverage (but only one because we had to drive – you see that, famous and STILL responsible).

Katie offered to give us a tour of the Alterra roasting facilties and of course we said yes. We are roaster junkies at this point – nothing makes us purr like a pretty Probat. The offices and roasters had the feel of a young fun company thats growing comfortably. We had fun goofing around with some of the later night staff and then hit the road for our drive to Chicago. Oh! I almost forgot – we had dinner at this super fun restaurant/grocery store and took some funshots while we were there. Never understimate the power of Melanie+Sara+Camera = FUN.

Maybe its because we love coffee, maybe its because we love people, maybe its because we love Kaite Weid, and maybe its because we are movie stars, but for one reason or another – M-town (notice me not having to spell its name again) will go down in my book as one heck of a city!

Peace out!
Melanie

A Coffee Who?

Is it safe to drive like that?

March 13, 2008 was a lot of driving.

Driving driving driving.

At 12:19 pm Suzie reached 6,000 miles! Here things (once again) got a little silly.

ooooo SOY!

We arrived in Milwaukee to relax with another amazing SITer, Katie. Over dinner Katie tolds us about her experiences promoting sustainability at Alterra Coffee, a Milwaulkie based coffee roaster. That night we slept soundly next to the wall of windows looking out over Lake Michigan.

* * * * * * * *

March 14, 2008 (The Informative version)

Friday morning led us to the SCAA Great Lakes Barista Competition. Yes, a Barista Competition. This event was extra special because it was the “greenest” barista competition to date. All the items in the SWAG bags were reusable (no samples of this-and-that which come with lots of packaging that gets thrown out), there was a heightened awareness of our water usage (because there were technically no drains and we had to hand empty all the used liquids), and the vendors were all local or eco-friendly businesses; just to name a few amazing Katie efforts.

So, you might be asking…What is a barista competition, anyway?!? What does becoming a champion barista mean? What does that title bring to the person in question?

Besides fame and glory in the coffee world, becoming a champion barista shows that you have truly mastered the art of coffee. What’s the art of coffee? (Gosh, you ask a lot of questions.) The art of coffee is the mastered maneuvering of a myriad of minute details to manufacture magnificent milk and espresso (mmmmmm…….)

In competition, a barista is judged on their presentation, the taste of the coffee and their technical skills: pulling, steaming, pouring, among other things, the cleanliness of their station, and their signature drink. You can browse a list from the Judges manual here: http://www.worldbaristachampionship.com/documents/2007WBCJudgesManual_002.pdf

For example, the way milk is steamed (and then poured) will affect the flavor of a drink and the way it will feel in your mouth. Correctly textured milk will sink under the crema and allow a barista to create those awesome images. The aforementioned crema is also vital. Correctly extracted espresso will have a nice thick layer of red-brown crema on top. This provides the right density for creating art and flavor for tasting. A shot of espresso with no crema will taste sour and that sourness will linger on your tongue for MUCH longer then you want it to.

Now for the real question – how does all of this relate to the Three CoffeeInAction Seeds of Sustainability, Social Responsibility and Community? One answer is Quality. People want to know the coffee they drink will taste good; that’s the bottom line of the specialty coffee industry. There are many debates as to whether “aware” coffee can taste as good as regular coffee (see previous post, for example). More and more these “aware” coffees are making their way into the drinks served by barista competitors and they are scoring just as well. In Milwaukie, a few of the competitors made a point of explaining the origin of their coffee, and mentioned when the coffee was organic or directly sourced.

Sara says

The better quality coffee you use, the better tasting the drink will be. As the art of extracting espresso becomes more prominent, the awareness of coffee growing will also increase. Aaron commented on a past blog about this issue: “Growing good-tasting coffee very often goes hand in hand with doing it sustainably.”

What does this mean for me as a barista? By mastering these materials (coffee, milk, crema etc….), I am committing to the pursuit of excellence and to a quality product. It also reflects a commitment to ongoing learning and improvement. I am learning how to pour hearts and rosettas as you read this. Perfecting a simple heart can take months of practice. The answer to the questions, in short, is that a superior product served well reflects the knowledge and skill of the barista, and serves to improve the standards in all aspects of the coffee industry.’

Not to mention what the competition do for the coffee community! You have a high concentration or nervous, over caffeinated coffee people in one room for 8 hours at a time. While volunteering we were able to get to know a number of baristas and other coffee enthusiasts. More seasoned baristas and café owners had a chance to catch up with each other, and us newbie’s exchanged information and enthusiasm. (Someone even recognized us!! “Are you the CoffeeInAction girls?” – I thought I was going to pass out I felt so cool – Mel)

-Sara Rose and Melanie

March 12, 2008

Logs and Figures

Wednesday morning started out before the sunrise. A sweet breakfast with Kate while the rest of the house slept soundly and we were out the door. Eastern Colorado rambled on and on and on. Here are some snippets from the morning:

6:30 am Leave Boulder

10:18 am Mel spots tumbleweed on I-76.

Colorado Continues

11:21 am (After 5 hours of driving) we enter Nebraska!

2:31 pm Still in Nebraska. Sara yells: “Woah,Woah Woah! Llamas!”

Classic

3:00 pm We arrived in Kearney, Nebraska for lunch and an afternoon coffee at Barista’s Daily Grind. We saw champion barista Ryan Denhardt’s many medals and awards. Impressive! Unfortunately he was hanging out in Omaha while we were in Kearney, but we had many other friendly faces to make us feel at home.

road pictures....

6-ish – We arrive in Omaha and spend the night with Aubry, Melanie’s friend from her study abroad in Namiba.

-Melanie and Sara Rose

March 11, 2008

A delicious perk of the road trip is that we get to reconnect with old friends all over the country. Travis is one of those people. Travis and his family live just south of Denver so we decided to spend a night with our almost long-lost friend. Travis and his wife Liz are the proud parents of two entirely edible boys, Issac and Caleb. We woke up on the 11th to Issac climbing running into our room: “Wakie-Wakie! Eggs and Bakie!”. Now, under any normal circumstances Melanie would have growled darkly and round-house kicked anything making that much noise that early. But, because it was a sweet high-voiced certain round-faced little boy, Melanie’s heart jumped out of her chest, poured rainbows and pink bunnies in the air and melted into a puddle in Issac’s palm. “Hi, girls!” And it was off to the Kitchen for breakfast.

While Sara helped Issac get breakfast ready…

Melanie snuck upstairs to get Caleb ready for breakfast…

Ok, I confess, I ate every single one of those fat little baby toes.  I blew rasperries in his belly, and was completley mushy-gushy-baby-noises-silly-faces-absolutely-enamored-with-this-9month-old.”

After breakfast Issac decided to show us his newest trick….


He can Wink!

Winking!
Issac went to School and we convinced Travis to take the day off work and take his youngest son to the Denver Art Museum.

And now….for the moment you have all been waiting for….We reveal…the BEST CAPPUCCINO of CoffeeInAction: Road Trip 2008…..(drum roll please)…..

The award goes to….the cafe on the second floor of the Denver Art Museum. Yes, we were surprised too – museums are not known for their high quality coffee but Novo Coffee operates the cafe and Hanna, the barista, simply blew us away with her double cap and awesome stripped socks. (No pictures allowed in the museum – sadface.)

We finished our SUPURB cap and said good by to Sir Roundface McGigglepants and his father. It was time to head to Allegro.

Allegro was the biggest coffee roaster we were going to see on this trip, and this fact alone peaked our interest. We wanted to see how a larger wholesale company operated (and see the big machines, heh, heh, heh). Most people who know of Allegro know it because they are the primary roaster for Whole Foods Markets.

Holly met us in the large comfortable first floor cafe, where she introduced us to Laura Bullock who gave us a tour of the facility.


Allegro is a company interested in social responsibility and environmental sustainability.  Their main faciltiy in Colorado is 100% wind powered.  Their website explains more about their buying practices and their business philosophy.  You can check out their “Socially Responsible Score Card” here

We spent most of our time milling around in the Cupping Lab. Apparently word of our visit got around the office because over the next hours almost everyone in house, from Allego President, Chris Thorns to the entire marketing staff (Hi Mike, Tara, Jeff, Heather, Holly, and Laura!) came down to say Hi and chit-chat with the “Coffee girls”.

Heather Zapletal, the Director of Sales, started to set up for a “scent” training, with hundreds of small bottles each filled with a different scent. We all got to try our hand at guessing the smells – its really hard to tell “browning sugar” from “caramel”; there was even “earth” smell (which Sara identified as beets) and “basmati rice”.

We ended the night back at our beloved Kate’s house and hit the hey early because our morning would come too soon.

-Melanie and Sara Rose.

 People of the Internet: We like you.  And we like talking with you.  Somtimes on this blog we get to dialogue back and forth with our readers.  Sometimes, as with the Class on Fire, we decide the conversation is so good we want to move it to the public arena and make it a post of its very own.

Below is a comment from Person of the Internet: Jason.  His comment hit on one of the major topics of debate in the coffee world.  Does “aware” coffee taste as good as other coffees? Below is Jason’s question as well as a response from both Sara and Melanie – so three voices in all.  While the questions are posed in response to Jason – we really are asking you, the consumers and blog readers for your thoughts.

Jason – Thanks for your poignent question and for sparking this discussion. 

Jason Says:

 “Just wondering….. I’ve read about your adventures and the seemingly endless search for “eco-friendly” coffees and proprietors of such beverages, but…I was just wondering if anywhere in your journey you were actually going to do your tastebuds a favor and seek out some gooooood coffee and actually share that information with the world. This information would be just as valuable as know the recycling practices of said places. I myself am not interested in spending my hard earned dollars on an inferior product simply because the seller pushes hype and marketing over quality. I’m certain that there are plenty of places that place value on providing a great product along with being socially responsible. Maybe in the future you could also provide an evaluation of beverages consumed… I think you could.”

Sara Says:

“Hi Jay

Thanks for reading our blog!  We have been searching for eco-friendly coffees and businesses that think about the environment and the people impacted along the way, and we have had an amazing trip. 

Some of the coffee we have had has been amazingly delicious, while some of the coffee has been sub-par.  I  feel the exact same way you do about quality coffee…that is partially why we have dedicated all this time to seeking out coffee.   As well as tasting better, higher quality coffee can help people become more aware of what they are drinking. 

I would love to know more about your thoughts on marketing and hype in the eco-friendly coffee world.  We have seen a lot of instances where a business said one thing but did another, etc…
As for our blog, we decided to keep a positive spin in our writing.  We are not out there to criticize people or tell them how to run their own business.  The knowledge we want to share is about responsible consumerism.  We have also found that what tastes good to one might not taste good to another.  What do you think?”

Melanie Says:

“Hey Jason. You can see by the fact that we both are compelled to respond that you are asking an essential question. 

My thought is to challenge a different assumption (not saying that you have this belief, just that we encountered it a lot):
If coffee is eco/people friendly, does it necessarily mean that its not high quality?  In my opinion the two are not mutually exclusive.  On our trip we had some amazing coffees and some pretty not-so-amazing coffees in both the “aware” and “conventional” categories.

Three people we met on the trip offered what I find to be great perspectives on this matter: (who all supply delicious coffee)

1) From Global Village coffee (Chapel Hill, NC) -   You have two tomatoes: one grown on a large farm using pesticides, chemical fertilizers and mechanical planting process.  The other from a local farm, organically produced, sun ripened, hand picked – which do you choose? 

Many people would choose the one from the organic farm – the assumption being that its redder in color, smaller in size and will probably be juicer and taste better.  Why do we not use the same thought process when it comes to coffee? 

From what I understand of the coffee farming process (which is still small), it takes more effort and attention to grow the coffee plants organically or in an environmentally friendly way.  Wouldn’t that extra love enhance the taste of the coffee? Or to put it another way – how would producin organic or “aware” coffee hurt  the coffee? 

2) From Higher Grounds (Leeds, AL) and echoed by Cuvee Coffee (Spring, TX) – These folks said their ideal would be to have all coffee produced with social and environmental awareness and then let the quality of coffee be the factor that determines which companies succeed. 

I also want to second Sara’s question – is fairly traded, enviro/people friendly coffee hype, marketing, a personal purchasing philosophy, a trend, a way of life, or all of the above and more?  Why do you choose, or choose not, to buy products that have a certification or that you know were sourced responsibly?

Lastly,  in any community you have a choice about how to contribute;  we choose to contribute to the coffee community by highlighting the positive and good people and coffees that we come across.  Bad press is just not our style.  If we have a cup that’s bad, we simply don’t mention it.  If the cup is amazing, we usually say so.  (But, just because we don’t say something about the coffee at a particular place, it does not mean the coffee is bad.)  In our lives and on this blog we try to keep our attention on the good, the beautiful, and the hopeful.

 Thanks for reading – comment at will.

-Melanie and Sara Rose

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